What is the meaning of the Yama?
All eight limbs of Yoga hold importance like all the limbs in our body. Yama and Niyama are the first two of the eight limbs (angas), per the Ashtanga Yoga by yogrishi Patanjali. Assuming Ashtanga Yoga is a house, then Yama and Niyama are the foundation of Yoga. If the foundations aren’t strong, the whole house will fall, i.e., a yogi cannot achieve the ultimate state unless the foundation is not strengthened. We could say the Asana and Pranayama are pillars; Pratyahara is the roof that stands on the two pillars. Finally, at the pinnacle, Dharana Dhyana and Samadhi lead or unite one with the almighty.
Yama and Niyama in Patanjali Yoga sutra
Patanjali Yoga sutra is unique; the names given to every sutra are very conceptual and self-explanatory. Sutras have got a characteristic. There is a total of 16 Sutras allotted to Yama and Niyama; (asana has 4, pranayama has 3-4). That shows the importance of Yama and Niyama, yet these two are most forgotten and least practiced. One must remember that all of the Angas should be followed and practiced if one wishes to be a true yogi, like a student in school who passes class 1st to 12th to complete school education; each anga leads one to the next anga.
The five commandants of yamas
The Yama is the first limb of Ashtanga yoga. Yama or ethical disciplines are of five types:
- Ahimsa (non-violence)
- Satya (truth)
- Asteya (non-stealing)
- Brahmacharya (continence) and
- Aparigraha (non-coveting)
It comprises two words ‘a means not, while he indicates killing or violence, which means love.
The word ‘sat’ literally translates as ‘True essence’ or ‘True nature. Many Sanskrit words use the prefix ‘sat,’ such as ‘Satsang,’ meaning ‘truth company,sattva,’ meaning ‘pure,’ which leads us to understand tat ‘sat’ really means more than ‘truth’; it unchanged and pure. ‘Sat’ also holds meanings like; ‘Unchangeable,’ which has no distortion, which is beyond distinctions of time, space, person, and reality.
Asteya refers to the virtue of “non-stealing.” The basic idea of Asteya is that a person should neither steal nor have the intention or desire to steal anything belonging to another person.
Celibacy, moderation in all our actions. Bhramcharya doesn’t limit to one step, it should be practiced in all aspects of our behavior.Bhramcharya pratistahyam virya labha- upon establishment of celibacy, power is attained. Swami Vivekananda ji said without brahmacharya, no fruits of Yoga could be achieved. Behavior that leads us toward ‘the divine’ or ‘higher power.’
Non-hoarding, absence of greed, or the ability to accept only what’s appropriate. Accept only from the righteous; if someone hasn’t accumulated something properly and we get from him/her, the same qualities will shift into our mind, which isn’t ideal; the mind becomes corrupt.
Yama and Guna
Guna is the three subtle energies in our body; guna is a part of Ayurveda. Ahara plays a vital role in a yogi’s life; through ahara, the three gunas can be brought to balance. Yoga strives to increase sattva guna in the body. Following yama and niyama calls for the predominance of sattva guna.
Klesa-s impedes due to the forceful play of raj and tamas. Thus yogis must stick to sattva food and practice all the angas of Yoga. Rajas and Tamas must refrain from becoming dominant, following yama and niyama religiously helps a lot.
Sattva food has a vital role to strengthen and sustain Yoga practices; the proper practice of asana will help put down raja and tamas guna. Purity in ahara keeps one’s inner and external self pure.